Panzanella Salad – Heirloom Tomato and Bread Salad

Ripe heirloom tomatoes make the best panzanella salad

Welcome to Tuscany!  Panzanella is a traditional Tuscan salad usually consisting mainly of stale bread and tomatoes.  We know it may seem strange to use stale bread, but this dish ingeniously takes advantage of rock-hard-day-old-bread, turning it into a tasty treat.  It’s also a great way to enjoy fresh vegetables – especially heirloom tomatoes which are abundant during the late summer months.

A variety of heirloom tomatoes and rustic loaf croutons make the best panzanella salad

For the bread, panzanella is made with a country-style loaf, like that found in Tuscany. Any rustic Italian loaf of bread from pugliese to ciabatta or even a French sweet baguette or batard (heresy!) will do as long as it’s at least one day old.   While the Tuscans claim it, you will find many variations of panzanella throughout central Italy with varying ingredients according to the region.   Every cook has her version of it. We prefer to toast the bread before letting it soak in the vinaigrette, giving the bread a little more flavor and texture.   If the last weeks of summer are still too hot to fire up the oven, consider leaving the bread out to dry in the sun for a couple of hours.  It’s a lovely entrée salad that requires no cooking!

Heirloom Tomato Basket

When choosing tomatoes, heirloom or otherwise, pick tomatoes that have vibrant color and are a bit soft.  Large, firm, heavy tomatoes tend to have lots of water in them and therefore lack intense tomato flavors.  Dry farmed or older, softer tomatoes tend to have less water and more flavor.

With the best of summer ingredients, hearty bread, and homemade vinaigrette,  panzanella is a delicious way to celebrate late-summer flavors!  Watch our short little video on how we made panzanella right on our front lawn… and while you’re at it, hit the hotlinks we’ve given you in the recipe below to watch our other cooking technique videos!

Panzanella – Heirloom Tomato and Bread Salad

Serves 6 to 8

Break out your best extra virgin olive oil to really make all of the simple flavors in this dish shine!

1 day-old rustic loaf , cut into 1-inch cubes

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

1 small shallot, minced

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 ripe heirloom tomatoes, sliced, diced and or cut into wedges

1/2 cup ripe cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise

½ bunch basil leaves, torn into pieces

½ red onion, lyonnaise

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Make the croutons by arranging the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and lightly toast the bread in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven, sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and half a pinch of ground black pepper.  Set aside to cool.

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the garlic, shallot, vinegar, olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Screw the lid on tightly and shake vigorously to combine.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the dressing together with the bread, tomatoes, basil and red onions.  Refrigerate the salad for 20 minutes for the flavors to develop.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

Want to get creative?  While not traditional, try adding any one (or all ) of these ingredients:

Panzanella Salad is a delicious idea for dinner when it's too darn hot to turn on the stove!

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In Defense of Brussels Sprouts

In Defense of Brussels Sprouts

There comes a time in one’s life when a singular event makes such an impact, there is time BEFORE, and time AFTER.  And, every human adult’s life in Western Civilization begins with intense dislike for Brussels sprouts.  At some point, either in early adulthood or even much later on in life, one might be fortunate enough to be reintroduced to the Brussels sprout and find he comes to like the pleasant delicious vegetable after all.

I can honestly say I’ve never known another fruit or vegetable that remains so divisive — there is the WE LOVE camp and the WE HATE camp.  And why hate?  There is nothing this humble mini-cabbage has ever done to make one hate it so much.

Tips for cooking Brussels sprouts for maximum potential:

  1. Buy them fresh, still attached to the stalk.  They stay fresher for up to a week and a half when still attached to their stem.  If you buy them loose in a bag or from the bulk bin, chances are they’ve been trimmed a week ago.  They start getting bitter soon after they are cut from the stalk.
  2. How can you tell a good sprout from a not-so-good one?  Squeeze the head between your thumb and forefinger.  The tighter the sprout, the fresher and tastier it will be.  If you feel something spongy with a lot of give and take, it’s lost its mojo.  Too much air between the leafy layers can only mean bitterness and sadness.
  3. Try different methods for cooking:  steaming, braising, roasting, sautéing, frying… and see which method works better for your palate.
  4. Add yummy aromatics like garlic, shallots, celery or caraway seeds, balsamic vinegar, red pepper flakes or BACON to the recipe.  Their complexity complements many different flavor profiles.  Find one that fits your palate.
  5. As a leafy green, they are downright fluffy and easy to digest.  Slice them in thin ribbon-like strips for a quick sauté. They cook so fast this way!
  6. Just don’t EVER buy them frozen. EVER.

The recipe below is Chef Mia’s, which was inspired by a photoshoot we did one afternoon (pictured above).  We liked the look and texture of both halved and sliced that we decided to keep them together in this dish.  I actually made this for dinner tonight — and added julienned carrots.  Delicious!

*Be sure to hit the blue links to see the helpful videos we’ve made to guide you through the recipe.  As always, subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Serves 4 to 6

RT @DearMartini “Dear @Brussels_sprouts_haters, This is a life changer.  You’re welcome.  Love, us.  #Baconmakeseverythingbetter”

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and sliced in half

4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into ½-inch dice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced horizontally

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

¼  teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (to taste!)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Take half of the Brussels sprouts and thinly slice them horizontally.  Keep the remaining halves in tact.  Keep them separate and set aside.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until brown and crispy.  With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the pan and set aside.  Pour off the bacon grease in a disposable container and discard.

In the same pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the halved sprouts.  keep tossing the sprouts until their outsides are brown and crispy, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the shallots and garlic and sauté 2 minutes more.  Stir in the sliced Brussels sprouts, and red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Continue to sauté until the sprouts turn bright green, about 5 minutes more.

Stir in the balsamic vinegar and return the bacon to the pan.  Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed and serve hot.

Happy Thanksgiving!

WHAT’S FOR DINNER?

Looking for a quick and easy answer to dinner?  Our English pea soup looks like spring… fresh, light green, and sweet.  The secret is in the blanching.  Blanching and shocking lock in the vibrant green color giving the soup its appealing color (no drab olive green here!)

Garden Pea Soup

Garden Pea Soup

Yield: 4 servings

Delicious on it’s own as a cold starter to a meal. Serve hot in a larger bowl and you have a light dinner with your favorite artisan bread and a salad.  

INGREDIENTS:

PREPARATION:

Pulse the peas, stock, zest, and almond butter in a blender until smooth.  With the blender running, pour in the olive oil  through the hole in the top.  Pour oil in a steady stream until blended.  Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate. Serve soup cold or heat soup over low heat just until hot (can be done in the microwave.)  Garnish with mint and serve.

Cook’s Notes: 

English peas, aka garden peas, aka shelling peas, are best eaten soon after picking.  For optimum results, purchase peas no more than 2-3 days before you plan to cook them as they start to loose their tenderness and sweetness quickly as their sugars turn to starch leaving you with bland starchy peas.  If you can’t find peas at the Farmer’s market you can substitute organic frozen peas (not quite as good, but pretty darn good in a pinch — shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone I told you.)

Oh, and what’s with the almond butter?  We’ve added a little almond butter to enhance the sweetness in the peas, add a subtle nuttiness, and up the protein.  If you don’t have it, don’t like it, don’t add it!

Remember, when working with our recipes on the blog, simply hit the blue hyperlinks in the recipe to see the associated technique video. It’s our way of guiding you through the recipe. Alternatively, you can view our Vimeo Portfolio, where all of the pea-related videos are bundled: http://vimeopro.com/dearmartini/peas-please

PEAS, PLEASE!

Springtime is the best time for the softest, sweetest, most tender produce!  We love PEAS!  All kinds of peas, but in particular, English peas (aka garden peas.)  They are at the height of their season right now (March – May) so hurry and get these on your table NOW!

Serve them with anything…  And everything.

English Peas with Shallots and Mint

(serves 4)

One of our favorite way to eat peas is simply blanched, then tossed with melted butter, shallots and mint.  Variations on this theme:  substitute the mint for chervil,  chives, or flat-leaf parsley.

1 pound English pea pods, shelled and blanched

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 shallot, minced

Pinch of kosher salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon mint chiffonade

2 teaspoons lemon zest

Shell the peas into a small bowl and blanch.  Set aside.

In a medium-sized saute pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots and sauté for 2 minutes, or until translucent and fragrant.

Add the peas and sauté until they are hot.  Season with salt and pepper.  Turn the heat off and toss in the mint and zest.  Serve immediately.

Remember, when working with our recipes on the blog, simply hit the blue hyperlinks in the recipe to see the associated technique video. It’s our way of guiding you through the recipe. Alternatively, you can view our Vimeo Portfolio, where all of the pea-related videos are bundled: http://vimeopro.com/dearmartini/peas-please